Arnavon Islands Community Managed Conservation Area, Solomon Islands
The Arnavon Islands, in the Solomon Islands, is one of the most successful and iconic conservation sites in Melanesia and the South Pacific. It is one of the most important nesting sites for the endangered Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), while its reefs and fish populations are some of the most diverse and representative in the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the global hotspot of coral reef diversity stretching from the Solomon Islands through New Guinea to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Since 1995, the Arnavon Islands are managed as the Arnavon Islands Community Managed Conserved Area (ACMCA), with management responsibility shared between three communities, the people of Katupika, Waghena and Kia. The main management objectives are to protect the nesting populations of Hawksbill and other marine turtles, to prevent fishing and harvesting of the reef to protect stocks of important marine species, and to manage the integrity of the atoll terrestrial habitat, including protection against erosion and climate change. The islands also form an important ‘centre-point’ for education, outreach and engagement for all people of the three communities.
Rangers, representing the three communities, are stationed at a research unit, from which they regularly patrol and carry out monitoring, especially of the turtle nesting. The facilities include internet and education facilities. The Island’s management is nearly self-sufficient, supported by a dedicated trust supported and managed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), from members’ donations. Tourism is an increasing source of funds, and several projects provide additional operational support.
View images of the protected area
From conflict to conservation
Official attempts to protect the island in 1975, with the imposition of a provincial trespass law, followed by formal national legislation in 1980, were fiercely resisted by local custodians, and the islands in turn became a source of conflict between the three rival communities, all laying claim to access and use rights – and the benefits of turtle meat, eggs and trade in turtle shell. At that time, the annual count of nesting Hawksbill and Green Turtles was recorded as just over 600 nests.
Rivalry over access to the islands was not new – since the infamous days of headhunting, control of the Arnavon Islands meant control of the trade in turtle-shell, and money with which to influence the whole island region. In the late 19th Century, the turtle-shell jewellery, combs and ornaments adorning the salons and boutiques of Paris were mainly sourced from these islands, through trade with the British colonial authority. Latterly, the Japanese ‘Bekko’ trade also sourced directly from the Arnavon islands, with 1,000 to 4,000 Hawksbill Turtles exported annually from the Solomon Islands to Japan during the 1950s and 1960s.
Once the Colonial Government exerted more control over this area, as the headhunting waned, the original inhabitants migrated away and the British relocated a community of Gilbertese (from modern-day Kiribati) to settle on nearby Waghena in the 1960s. The arrival of an outsider group, whose livelihoods and island culture revolved around fishing and coastal resources, exacerbated local demand for, and conflict over, the turtles and other bounty of the islands.
The initial top-down efforts to manage the Arnavon Islands as a turtle sanctuary failed. The small research station and Nature Reserve Office were even burned to the ground. The population of Hawksbill Turtles continued to decline, and had crashed by the early 1990’s. Between 1994 and 1996 it was estimated that an average of approximately 1,068 Green Turtles and 825 Hawksbills were harvested annually by the communities of Kia, Waghena, and Katupika combined.
However, in 1995, with external support from The Nature Conservancy, a new approach to collaborative management was initiated. Through a process of dialogue, the Government and three communities came to an agreement over protection of the Arnavon Islands, and conservation management of the surrounding coasts, islands, reef and seas. Over the next decade, steady external support, Government recognition of community rights, and agreement between the communities has seen the Arnavon Islands become a success story for island and species conservation in the Pacific. The example has inspired similar, locally-managed marine conservation areas across many neighbouring islands. Locals interested in conservation can freely visit and learn from the Arnavon example.
One of the leading community advocates, and current Chairman of the ACMCA board, Mr. Rence Zama, had previously been prosecuted for his opposition to the Government imposed nature reserve. He has now won his struggle for local ownership of the islands, and also embraced conservation as the best way to resolve conflict and sustainably manage the natural and cultural heritage of the islands. He now helps ensure that all three communities share management and patrolling responsibilities, and are aware of the benefits the islands provide. He and ACMCA were awarded the prestigious UN Equator Prize in 2008.
Size and location
Consisting of three coral atolls (Sikopo, Kerehipika and Arnavon), the Arnavon Islands are situated in-between the large island provinces of Choiseul (locally known as Lauru) and Santa Isabel, in the eastern Solomon Islands. The nearest inhabited islands are Waghena, 12 kilometers to the north, and Santa Isabel, 8 kilometers to the south. The Marine Protected Area (MPA) covers nearly 40,000 hectares of reef and sea surrounding the three main atolls.
Conservation of fauna and flora and important species for local livelihoods
The Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is the key species for the Islands, which nests in significant numbers on the island beaches, along with the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas). Endemic land and seabirds, such as the Solomon Eagle (Haliaeetus sanfordi), also survive and breed on the islands. The extensive reefs of the Arnavon Islands contain globally significant diversity of coral reef and fish species, including the IUCN red-listed Maori Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus). Estuarine Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) are occasionally encountered in the MPA.
Research has confirmed that the Arnavon Community Marine Conservation Area achieves a significant impact in allowing commercial and subsistence marine species to regenerate. A 2006 survey report by TNC report found that “in the Arnavon Islands where commercial fishing is banned and only subsistence collecting of some reef fish species is allowed, there are many sea cucumbers, Trochus, Tridacnid Clams, crayfish, as well as large commercial fish species particularly the Bumphead Parrot Fish and Maori Wrasse. Also, after more than 10 years of protection, Pearl Oysters, especially Pinctada margaritifera, were abundant.” This shows that, aside from protecting the turtle nests, the conservation area has achieved its goal of protecting important fisheries species
Poaching and illegal fishing within the marine reserve continue to be a threat, especially as village populations steadily grow on the surrounding islands, with better access to markets and rising demand for marine products. Turtles continue to form part of the menu in the three communities, although this is much reduced.
Changes in climate, causing coral bleaching events and increased beach erosion, are serious threats to the integrity of the islands and their ecosystems.
In 2008, an award-winning documentary by Jordan Plotsky, called Home for Hawksbill, helped raise awareness of the Arnavon Islands and their efforts:
Some of the more diverse activities on the Arnavon Islands include training in Cultural Heritage Mapping, a video of which can be found here: